Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Christmas Carol, A

At least 14 movies have been based on Dickens's tale.

1. Scrooge UK movie (1935). Twickenham. Pr John Brahm, Julius Hagen. Dir Henry Edwards. Screenplay Seymour Hicks, H Fowler Mear. Starring Oscar Asche, Donald Calthrop, Barbara Everest, Maurice Evans, Hicks (Scrooge), Athene Seyler. 79 mins. B/w.

The preferred version until the release of 3. Hicks was an impresario as well as a comic actor, and was apparently – we have been unable to trace a viewing copy of this movie – an excellent Scrooge. [JG]

2. A Christmas Carol US movie (1938). MGM. Pr Joseph L Mankiewicz. Dir Edwin L Marin. Screenplay Hugo Butler. Starring Lionel Braham (Christmas Present), Leo G Carroll (Marley's Ghost), Lynne Carver (Bess), D'Arcy Corrigan (Christmas Future), Terry Kilburn (Tiny Tim), Gene Lockhart (Bob Crachit [sic]), Kathleen Lockhart (Mrs Crachit), Barry Mackay (Fred), Reginald Owen (Scrooge), Ann Rutherford (Christmas Past), Ronald Sinclair (young Scrooge). 69 mins. Colour.

A reasonably faithful version although, seemingly in the interests of economy, some incidents are cut and there is an interminable cheap-to-make set-piece at the Cratchit Christmas dinner. The Cratchit children vie with their English accents and lose, while Owen as Scrooge seems more eager to be a crusty but rather likeable curmudgeon than a genuine Villain. The role of nephew Fred is played up at the expense of Scrooge's Spirit-guided Night Journey, which thus becomes almost a subplot; indeed, there is a strong implication that the ghostly encounters are merely Illusion or Dream. The overall effect is rather like a rushed amateur-dramatics production. [JG]

3. Scrooge UK movie (1951; vt A Christmas Carol). George Minter/Renown. Pr Brian Desmond-Hurst. Dir Desmond-Hurst. Phot dir C Pennington-Richards. Screenplay Noel Langley. Starring George Cole (Young Scrooge), Michael Hordern (Marley's Ghost), Patrick Macnee (Young Marley), Miles Malleson (Joe the ragpicker), Alistair Sim (Scrooge), Jack Warner. 86 mins. B/w (a tinted version has been released on video).

Seemingly made to a restricted budget, this often scantly decorated version plays upon its limitations to convert them into strengths: the austerity of effect and visual starkness are matched by exquisite direction and shot-construction (with superb exploitation of light and shadow) to underline the fundamental harshness and potential terror of Dickens's story. The sets are spare and, among the actors, there is barely a wasted extra; thus full focus is given to the performances of the central characters, among whom Sim and Hordern, in two very different ways, are quite outstanding: there is real power in the chilling encounter between Scrooge and Marley's Ghost. Sim, reminiscent here in both performance and mannerism of the sorcerer-scientist Rotwang in Fritz Lang's classic Metropolis (1926), provides the performance from which all else hangs: juggling pathos and, oddly, charisma in a sophisticated yet traditionally theatrical fashion, he portrays an intriguingly Scottish Scrooge. Aside from a subplot concerning Scrooge's and Marley's early nefarious business dealings, the adaptation is superficially rather faithful to the original, yet draws out a psychoanalytic interpretation of Scrooge's character; also stressed is the malleability of the as-yet-unwritten future Reality. Short and pacy, this may be the finest Christmas Carol of all. [JG]

4. Scrooge UK movie (1970). Cinema Center/Waterbury. Pr Robert H Solo. Exec pr Leslie Bricusse. Dir Ronald Neame. Spfx Wally Veevers. Screenplay Bricusse. Based on the stage musical with music and lyrics by Bricusse. Starring Richard Beaumont (Tiny Tim), David Collings (Bob Cratchit), Frances Cuka (Mrs Cratchit), Edith Evans (Christmas Past), Albert Finney (Scrooge), Alec Guinness (Marley), Michael Medwin (Scrooge's nephew Harry), Kenneth More (Christmas Present), Suzanne Neve (Isobel), Anton Rodgers (Tom Jenkins), Paddy Stone (Christmas Yet to Come). 113 mins. Colour.

A fairly faithful rendition, distinguished by an exceptional performance from Finney that conjures genuine sentiment and sparks sympathy for even the unreformed Scrooge. Guinness's camp – perhaps too camp – Marley entertains, but Evans and More are surprisingly flat; More's woodenness, in particular, contrasts oddly with his physical presentation as something akin to a Pan-like Fertility god. Indeed, the "message" of the movie – spelt out explicitly in the later stages, as a formal choir is persuaded to forsake religious carols in favour of a knockabout roister – is that it is the pagan vision of Christmas that should be celebrated. The songs are generally weak. [JG]

5. A Christmas Carol US Animated Movie (1970 tvm). Voice actors C Duncan, Ron Haddrick, John Llewellyn, T Mangan, Bruce Montague, Brenda Senders. circa 60 mins. Colour.

By all accounts this production, a special episode of the Famous Classic Tales series, was modest. [JG]

6. Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas UK Animated Movie (1971 tvm). A Richard Williams Production. Pr Williams. Exec pr Chuck Jones. Dir Williams. Master animator Ken Harris. Screenplay uncredited. Voice actors Felix Felton (Christmas Present), Melvin Hayes (Cratchit), Michael Hordern (Marley's ghost), Diana Quick (Christmas Past), Michael Redgrave (Narrator), Alistair Sim (Scrooge), Joan Sims (Mrs Cratchit), Paul Whitsun-Jones (Fezziwig/Joe), Alexander Williams (Tiny Tim). circa 25 mins. Colour.

This short movie is as beautiful to watch as one might expect from Williams. Because of its small compass, however, the tale is stripped back to the bones, almost as if it were a trailer for a full-length feature; this occasionally works to the telling's advantage – some of the transitions involving the Spirits gain considerable effect through their abruptness – but more often, notably in the closing minutes, it gives matters an air of perfunctoriness. Sim and Hordern recreate their roles in 3 as Scrooge and Marley's ghost respectively; the verbal and visual similarity is maintained in the case of Marley, but Sim provides an excellent reinterpretation of his part, and visually Scrooge more resembles Reginald Owen's depiction in 2. [JG]

7. A Christmas Carol UK movie (1977 tvm). BBC/Time Life. Pr Jonathan Powell. Dir Moira Armstrong. Screenplay Elaine Morgan. Starring Timothy Chasin (Tiny Tim), Paul Copley (Fred), Michael Hordern (Scrooge), Bernard Lee (Christmas Present), John Le Mesurier (Marley), Carol MacReady (Mrs Cratchit), Clive Merrison (Bob Cratchit), Patricia Quinn (Christmas Past). 58 mins. Colour.

Having played the part of Marley's Ghost twice – in 3 and 6 – Hordern finally took over the principal role in this fairly faithful adaptation, lushly if stagily presented. Budget restrictions led to some odd manoeuvres, notably the representation of several scenes by drawings/paintings, with actors commenting in front of them; nevertheless, the modest spfx are good. Le Mesurier plays Marley's ghost well and Hordern is a delightfully fidgety Scrooge. MacReady excels, making Mrs Cratchit's role surprisingly central; but Merrison's Cratchit – resembling a nob talking common – and Copley's Fred – oddly blokish – grate. For its casting, this is a surprisingly lightweight version. [JG]

8. A Christmas Carol Australian Animated Movie (1979). 72 mins. Colour.

By all accounts this version is modest. [JG]

9. Mickey's Christmas Carol US Animated Movie (1983). Disney. Dir Burny Mattinson. Screenplay Mattinson. Voice actors Wayne Allwine (Bob Cratchit/Mickey Mouse), Eddie Carroll (Christmas Past/Jiminy Cricket), Clarence Nash (Fred/Donald Duck), Pat Parris (Isabel/Daisy Duck), Will Ryan (Christmas Present/Willie the Giant, Christmas Yet to Come/Pete), Susan Sheridan (Tiny Tim/Morty Mouse), Hal Smith (Marley/Goofy), Alan Young (Scrooge/Scrooge McDuck). 26 mins. Colour.

The favourite Disney animated characters feature in a very loosely interpreted version, with Scrooge McDuck as Scrooge, Mickey Mouse as Cratchit, plus Daisy and Donald Duck, etc. The Ghosts – Jiminy Cricket as Christmas Past, Willie the Giant as Christmas Present, and Pegleg Pete as Christmas Yet to Come – are excellent (notably Pete), but Goofy as Marley's Ghost upstages all. This revival of Mickey's career reportedly cost over $3 million. [JG]

10. A Christmas Carol US tvm, also released theatrically (1984). Entertainment Partners. Pr Alfred R Kelman, William F Storke. Exec pr Robert E Fuisz. Dir Clive Donner. Spfx Martin Gutteridge, Graham Longhurst. Screenplay Roger O Hirson. Starring Nigel Davenport (1928-2013) (Silas Scrooge), Frank Finlay (Marley), Lucy Gutteridge (Belle), Angela Pleasence (Christmas Past), Roger Rees (Fred Holywell), George C Scott (Scrooge), Mark Strickson (Young Scrooge), Anthony Walters (Tiny Tim), David Warner (Cratchit), Edward Woodward (Christmas Present), Susannah York (Mrs Cratchit). 100 mins. Colour.

With its all-star cast and its exquisite production values, this version is in constant danger of collapsing into selfconscious lavishness at the expense of involvement and raw sentiment, a danger it does not always avoid: there is a lack of the necessary squalor. The adaptation is faithful to the point of over-deliberation, with some small and not oversubtle additions made for the sake of "contemporary relevance". Overall this version is too conscious of the "classic" status of Dickens's tale. Yet it has considerable virtues, and electrifies during the sequences in which the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present and Future participate: Pleasence admirably conjures combined youth and maturity, and Woodward's hamminess so effectively matches his role that this is probably the definitive portrayal of Christmas Present. There is one very interesting contrast between this and other versions: where they derive much strength from the use of Shadows, this relies – to great effect – on light, even during the sequences with Christmas Yet to Come, here portrayed most often as merely an ominously cast and brilliantly contrasted shadow. [JG]

11. A Christmas Carol US Animated Movie (1984 tvm). Burbank Films. Voice actors Barbara Frawley, Ron Haddrick, Philip Hinton, Sean Hinton, Robin Stewart. circa 80 mins. Colour.

By all accounts this is unpretentious but rather good. [JG]

12. Scrooged US movie (1988). Paramount. Pr Richard Donner, Art Linson. Dir Donner. Spfx Steven Foster, Gary I Karas, Joe Montenegro. Mufx Thomas R Burman, Bari Dreiband-Burman. Vfx Eric Brevig, Dream Quest Images. Screenplay Mitch Glazer, Michael O'Donoghue. Starring Karen Allen (Claire), John Forsythe (Hayward), David Johansen (Ghost of Christmas Past), Carol Kane (Ghost of Christmas Present), Bill Murray (Frank), Alfre Woodard (Grace). 101 mins. Colour.

The tale recast into the late 20th century. Frank Cross, ruthless tv executive, is masterminding his company's live all-star Christmas production, Scrooge. Sacking a deputy who dares argue with him invokes the familiar procession of Ghosts: his ex-boss, Lew Hayward, in the Marley role; Christmas Past, a cab-driver (and virtually a double for Christmas Yet to Come in 9); Christmas Present, a brilliantly, unpredictably violent Fairy Godmother; and Christmas Yet to Come, a dark, hooded, giant figure. The show is almost stolen by Alfre Woodard as a female Cratchit – Cross's secretary – with a tiny disabled son. The spfx are excellent, the imaginative content surprisingly high (Christmas Past and Present are as good as any ghosts to come out of Hollywood, and S has many fine touches of Technofantasy) and the entertainment rich and witty, despite an overlong finale as Frank invades the Scrooge set and renounces, worldwide, his yuppie lifestyle. [JG]

13. The Muppet Christmas Carol US puppet/live-action/Animated Movie (1992). Disney/Jim Henson Productions/Buena Vista. Pr Martin G Baker, Brian Henson. Exec pr Frank Oz. Dir Brian Henson. Spfx David Harris. Vfx Paul Gentry. Miniatures sv David Sharp. Screenplay Jerry Juhl. Starring Meredith Braun (Belle), Michael Caine (Scrooge), Steven Mackintosh (Fred), Robin Weaver (Clara). Voice actors Donald Austen (Christmas Present/Christmas Yet to Come), Jessica Fox (Christmas Past), Dave Goelz (Gonzo/Robert Marley/Bunsen Honeydew/Betina [sic] Cratchit), William Todd Jones (Christmas Past), Jerry Nelson (Tiny Tim/Jacob Marley/Ma Bear/Christmas Present), Frank Oz (Miss Piggy/Fezziwig/Sam Eagle/Animal), Karen Prell (Christmas Past), David Rudman (Peter Cratchit/Old Joe/Swedish Chef), Rod Tygner (Christmas Past/Christmas Yet to Come), Steve Whitmire (Kermit/Rizzo the Rat/Bean Bunny/Belinda Cratchit). 86 mins. Colour.

An exceptionally charming version, almost like a Pantomime, this sticks, despite many Muppetish embellishments, surprisingly closely to Dickens's original, the sole major difference being that Scrooge is haunted by the ghosts of two Marleys (brothers Robert and Jacob), who come to gloat rather than warn. The spfx are seamless, Caine is surprisingly good and, among the Ghosts, that of the childlike Christmas Past is outstanding. All the usual Muppets feature, with Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit and the Great Gonzo as Dickens, narrating the story to Rizzo. Rizzo: "Whew, that's scary stuff! Hey, should we be worried about the kids in the audience?" Dickens: "Nah, it's all right – this is culture." [JG]

14. Brer Rabbit's Christmas Carol US Animated Movie (1992 tvm). INI Entertainment/Magic Shadows. Pr Al Guest, Jean Mathieson. Dir Guest, Mathieson. Screenplay Guest, Mathieson, William Mathieson. 58 mins. Colour.

Remotely related to Joel Chandler Harris's Brer Rabbit, although the character's Trickster elements are clumsily deployed. At Christmas the mean Brer Fox (à la Scrooge; Brer Bear is his Cratchit) refuses to give to the poor. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.